The U.S. Depart­ment of Cater­ing to Spe­cial In­ter­ests

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices al­ready has gone through one name change in its 58-year-old his­tory, switch­ing to HHS in 1980 from its orig­i­nal name, the Depart­ment of Health, Ed­u­ca­tion and Wel­fare.

Now it’s time to re­name it again to some­thing that more ac­cu­rately fits its cur­rent mis­sion — some­thing, per­haps, like the Depart­ment of Cater­ing to Spe­cial In­ter­ests.

That’s a log­i­cal con­clu­sion af­ter look­ing at the long list of cor­po­ra­tions and la­bor unions that HHS Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius has ex­empted from an early re­quire­ment of Oba­macare — one that says health plans must pro­vide at least $750,000 in an­nual in­surance pro­tec­tion to those they cover.

McDon­ald’s was first in line and now, nearly 1,400 com­pa­nies, states and la­bor unions have re­ceived one-year waivers from Mrs. Se­be­lius af­ter ar­gu­ing that the re­quire­ment is too ex­pen­sive and could force them to drop cov­er­age al­to­gether. By the time you read this, the ranks of the spe­cially ex­empted al­most cer­tainly will have grown even larger.

All of which raises a larger ques­tion: Why can’t we all get a waiver from Oba­macare? Re­mem­ber to be guided by this golden rule: Pay your dues, and you, too, could be ex­empt from Oba­macare’s rules.

One in five of the lat­est batch of waivers went to two-dozen posh restau­rants, spas and other busi­nesses in for­mer House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s con­gres­sional district in San Fran­cisco. What a co­in­ci­dence.

There are more waves of waivers. Nearly two-dozen states have ei­ther ap­plied for or have been granted waivers from an­other Oba­macare rule that forces health in­sur­ers op­er­at­ing in their states to com­ply with strict fed­eral lim­its on how much they can spend on ad­min­is­tra­tion ver­sus re­im­burse­ments for med­i­cal bills.

And now we learn that HHS has just is­sued reg­u­la­tions re­quir­ing health in­sur­ers to jus­tify to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment any pre­mium in­creases of more than 10 per­cent. Get ready for more waiver re­quests.

This lat­est rule in­cludes an in­ter­est­ing ex­emp­tion: Those who sell Medi­care sup­ple­men­tal in­surance poli­cies won’t have to limit pre­mium in­creases to 10 per­cent a year.

It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise that the top mar­keter of this “Medi- gap” cov­er­age is the AARP, the self-avowed se­nior cit­i­zens lobby, which spent mil­lions of dol­lars help­ing to get Oba­macare passed.

This is the same AARP that makes up­wards of $1 bil­lion in prof­its from mar­ket­ing Medi­gap plans.

The bar­gain base­ment rush for waivers be­gan last year af­ter fast-food gi­ants McDon­ald’s and Jack in the Box asked for and re­ceived per­mis­sion to be ex­empt from the $750,000 health-in­surance cov­er­age limit. In short or­der, Uni­ver­sal Or­lando, Dish Net­work and the gi­ant Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union (SEIU) also were granted waivers. These ex­emp­tions now ap­ply to more than 3 mil­lion Amer­i­can work­ers. In a bizarre near-ad­mis­sion that the so-called “Affordable Care Act” is any­thing but, the White House is­sued a blog post de­fend­ing it­self. It is is­su­ing waivers that ex­empt em­ploy­ers “from the an­nual limit pro­vi­sion of the law if it would dis­rupt ac­cess to ex­ist­ing in­surance ar­range­ments or ad­versely af­fect pre­mi­ums, caus­ing peo­ple to lose cov­er­age.”

In other words, Oba­macare would cause peo­ple to lose their in­surance cov­er­age or cause costs to go up if they don’t grant these waivers. Wasn’t Oba­macare sup­posed to do just the op­po­site?

This sweep­ing, 2,800-page law bris­tles with il­log­i­cal man­dates that in­vite or­ga­ni­za­tions to seek spe­cial fa­vors and ex­emp­tions. This is crony cap­i­tal­ism at its worst.

All of this re­minds peo­ple of how an­gry we were at all the spe­cial deals — such as the “Corn­husker Kick­back,” the “Louisiana Pur­chase” and so on — that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, handed out to get Oba­macare through the Se­nate in 2009.

Even Pres­i­dent Obama him- self is get­ting into the waiver act. He has said he wants Congress to change the law to give states waivers to im­ple­ment Oba­macare their own way, start­ing in 2014, rather than hav­ing to wait un­til 2017.

What’s miss­ing here is the rule of law so vi­tal to the func­tion­ing of a democ­racy. Af­ter all, thanks to our Found­ing Fathers, we live in a democ­racy and not a monar­chy, where ben­e­fits are be­stowed by kingly whim.

Oba­macare is the most sweep­ing piece of so­cial and spend­ing leg­is­la­tion in our coun­try’s his­tory, but now — only 14 months af­ter it was en­acted — the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­ced­ing that one of its ma­jor pro­vi­sions is un­work­able by grant­ing whole­sale ex­emp­tions from it.

No won­der Demo­cratic poll­ster Pa­trick Cad­dell said the Amer­i­can peo­ple thought it was “a crime against democ­racy.”

No won­der polls show that a solid ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple still want it re­pealed.

Af­ter all, it’s safe bet there are no Oba­macare waivers wait­ing for them at the Depart­ment of Cater­ing to Spe­cial In­ter­ests.

Grace-Marie Turner is pres­i­dent of the Galen In­sti­tute and co-au­thor of “Why Oba­maCare Is Wrong for Amer­ica” (Broad­side/HarperCollins, 2011).

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